Once again, to Middle Earth!
Director Peter Jackson takes us on the second leg of The Hobbit journey with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin (Richard Armitage), and his band of dwarves as they try to reclaim Eredor, the dwarves’ under-mountain kingdom. Unfortunately for them, they face a deadly foe, Smaug, the fierce, fire-breathing dragon who has laid waste to Laketown and claimed Eredor for himself. Hence, this sequel to the first prequel of the Lord of the Rings trilogy bears the title The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. If that sounds confusing, it sort of is. However, this film is better than the first installment The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Like its predecessor, it’s a bit long at 156 minutes. There’s a great deal of traveling across vast landscapes and climbing up treacherous-looking mountainsides. If you enjoy the breathtaking New Zealand scenery, you may not mind all the trekking. I don’t think the film would have suffered if some of it were shortened. At several points, I couldn’t help thinking, “Let’s get on with this already!” That being said, the cast, mostly from the UK, does a fine job with the script’s vintage dialogue. It doesn’t hurt that it sounds so much more believable with British accents.
Orlando Bloom reappears as Legolas, heir to the Elves’ throne, and decides to help the dwarves mainly to impress his fellow elf-soldier Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Tauriel knows that Legolas’s father, Thranduil (Lee Pace), the Elf King, would not allow his son to settle for a mere foot soldier, so she does not encourage him. She does, however, fight valiantly alongside him, which keeps him interested. The Tauriel character is an invented role designed to give the film a bit of girl power, and Lilly makes the most of it. Particularly touching is her affection for a dwarf, Kili (Aidan Turner), whom she joins the dwarves’ quest to save. Kili has been mortally wounded by an Orc arrow tainted with poison.
Yes, the ever-present Orcs are as ugly as ever as they serve the Necromancer by trying to kill everybody else in Middle Earth. The real star of this film, however, is the dragon Smaug. He may have laid waste to the surrounding area and high-jacked the dwarves’ kingdom, Erebor, but he’s a clever and seemingly invincible enemy. Smaug is voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch who studied reptiles at the London Zoo to perfect the movements for his motion-capture performance. His is definitely the most riveting performance in the film.
Another welcome newcomer is Bard (Luke Evans), a smuggler, and unlikely hero, from Laketown. He’s constantly pursued by the Master of Laketown’s (Stephen Fry) stooge Alfrid (Ryan Gage). Bard aids Bilbo and the dwarves in gaining access to the mountain kingdom of Erebor. They must find the secret doorway to enter after which they intend to send Bilbo inside to retrieve the Arkenstone. Nevermind that there’s a sleeping dragon in there! Thorin believes that he must have the Arkenstone to rightfully claim the throne.
The highlight of the film is the sequence within the dragon’s lair inside Erebor. The sight of the enormous mounds of gold and jewels, and Bilbo’s verbal sparring with Smaug is completely mesmerizing, and it’s the only part of the film that I didn’t find to be too long. An adventure with a hero is only as good as its villain, and Cumberbatch gives us a stupendous one! The end of their encounter sets up the final film in the trilogy.
Although neither of The Hobbit films packs the power of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, both contain enough of the elements of Tolkien’s writings to please most fans. After all, when you take a relatively small work like The Hobbit and expand it into 3 very long films, interpretation is bound to suffer. That’s my main complaint, as he original book would have made a fine film on its own...but Peter Jackson seems bent on expanding Tolkien’s fantastic world. - JoAnne Hyde